In a significant move, the Florida State Guard, which was revived by Governor Ron DeSantis, may soon have the power to operate outside the state and be called into service whenever the governor deems it necessary. This development comes as a bill, known as HB 1551, was approved by an 11-3 vote in the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee on Thursday.
The proposed changes outlined in the bill, sponsored by Mike Giallombardo, a Republican from Cape Coral, are described as “technical” and include not only expanding the State Guard’s jurisdiction but also reducing training requirements. These changes aim to clarify that the State Guard can be deployed to other states under the existing Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows states to share resources during both natural and man-made disasters.
The State Guard, originally established during World War II to replace deployed members of the Florida National Guard, became inactive in 1947. However, Governor DeSantis revived this volunteer force in 2022 and expanded its size from a maximum of 400 members to 1,500 members last year. To support this expansion, the Legislature increased funding from $10 million to an impressive $107.6 million, which includes the acquisition of five aircraft and boats.
While the bill has received considerable support, it also faces opposition. Representative Dan Daley, a Democrat from Coral Springs, voted against the bill, expressing concerns about the growing size and duties of the State Guard. Daley highlighted the purchase of aircraft and boats, as well as the potential deployment of State Guard members to Texas to address immigration issues along the Mexico border.
Daley emphasized that the original intention behind the Florida State Guard was to act as an auxiliary and support system, alleviating the workload of the already overworked and understaffed National Guardsmen. He believes that efforts should be focused on expanding the size and role of the National Guard instead, a sentiment shared by many lawmakers who have been urging Congress to take action in recent years.
Aside from expanding the State Guard’s jurisdiction, Giallombardo’s bill also aims to remove the requirement that state guard standards and training be equivalent to those of the Florida National Guard. Additionally, it seeks to enhance the governor’s authority to activate the State Guard during periods of civil unrest and “at any other time deemed necessary and appropriate.”
Giallombardo, a member of the Florida Army National Guard, explained that new recruits for the State Guard differ from those joining the National Guard, as they often include medical professionals and IT personnel who do not necessarily meet military requirements. Consequently, the bill allows for more flexibility in training and standards, while still ensuring that new recruits undergo national criminal history records checks conducted by the FBI, with the state covering the cost of fingerprint submissions.
Governor DeSantis has consistently shown support for the State Guard, as evidenced by his request for an additional $57 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. However, while the bill has made progress in the House, a Senate version (SB 1694) has yet to be heard in committees as the Legislature enters its third week of the 60-day session.
As the debate surrounding the future of the Florida State Guard continues, its potential expansion and increased flexibility raise questions about the balance between state and national resources. Lawmakers and officials must carefully consider the implications of these changes and the overall role of the State Guard in both local and interstate emergencies.